I was born in a big bustling Indian city. A country that has more than 650 million women but is still patriarchal in its core, where sons are preferred over daughters, where having a girl is still considered a burden and where women are forced to pay dowry to get married. As an Indian girl growing up in an educated middle class family with liberal parents sheltered me from the deep issue of gender inequality that still exists in the Indian society. My parents raised me and my sister as they would have raised their sons. We were educated and taught the importance of being self dependent. Our parents helped us chart a course in our life to become confident and professionally successful women. However, we were not made to feel that we did something different or accomplished more or less because of our gender. We just worked hard to make the best of the opportunities that we had. However, all of this changed when we decided it was finally time to settle down. The discrimination that we did not face all of our lives as women was rubbed into our faces again and again by men and their families as we considered the prospect of marriage. This is what we were faced with:
"You're a strong and independent woman! I am looking for a homely girl." (Translation: I'm looking for a woman who is going to cook, clean and take care of my every need.)
"I cannot be with a woman who is professionally more successful than I am." (Translation: I am more equal.)
"Are you going to keep working after marriage?" (Translation: A woman's place is at home.)
"In our culture, the girl’s family is responsible for paying for the wedding." (Translation: Women are a burden and her family is obligated to us for our every demand.)
"We have to invite a 1000 people to the wedding otherwise it is off." (Translation: The wedding will be on our terms.)
"We are looking for a vegetarian, tall, slim, fair, Gujarati, Jain, Sindhi, girl." (Translation: We are shopping for the most attractive car in the market. It has to be the right color, have the horsepower and easy to control.)
"If horoscopes don’t match, the wedding is off." (Translation: Matches are made in heaven.)
"You’re getting too old to have kids." (Translation: I want to be married to a pretty, young girl who is preferably 10 years younger.)
Time and again, we faced one obstacle after another. It wasn’t that I was not approachable. I met guys who confessed they liked me, who said they wanted to get married to me. But every time, we were up against a different hurdle as if it were a business deal. It seemed like I was trying to play the powerball but with better odds of winning the powerball than finding a husband. We were constantly pressured to fit a social stereotype where women don’t have a voice or to give in to the demands of a big wedding. If we tried to rationalize, we were shut out. These social norms don't change even if a woman is more educated and more successful than a man. I came to realize that we don't live in a society where women can think of themselves equal of men. We don't live in a time where women are respected for their accomplishments and supported to be successful. It seems we are looking for a prize not a good person.
Yes, I am a strong and independent woman but I am no different from a strong and independent man. Yes, I do have my opinions but it doesn't make me different from a man who knows what he wants. And no, I will not get married to someone who wants to marry me for my last name, my religion, my caste, my horoscope, my diet, or how much money I can spend on a wedding. Unfortunately there are too many women in India who give in to the demands of social stereotyping and gender roles for fear of being shunned.
There are 650 million women in India. We are a force. Together we can be the change we wish to see in the world. The time is now. To take a stand, to voice our opinions and to start a movement.